Audiences Get It
“We can’t do longform in our theater. Audiences don’t get it. They don’t have the patience to sit through a lot of low-energy, soul-searching, angst-ridden comedy/drama. They’re paying to laugh, to be entertained, to enjoy.”
I’ve heard this. I’ll hear this in the future. Many of us will. It’s dead wrong. And it’s dead right.
If your audience doesn’t “get” the long stuff, maybe you aren’t doing it well. Maybe you’re so focused on IQ (Intelligence Quotient), you’re missing what I call EQ (Energy and Quality).
Longer stuff doesn’t need to sit around contemplating its own navel. It doesn’t exist for the masturbatory pleasure of the improvisers. Of course audiences don’t really want that. I wouldn’t. As an audience member, I don’t want to feel like I’m intruding in some ritual that the players are doing to prove to each other how smart they are. How deep they are. How edgy they are. That’s performance art, and is a whole other thing with a totally different set of expectations from audience members.
Longform can be raucous. It can be filled with both energy and nuance. And the energy doesn’t always have to be the kinetic type, with people rolling around or shouting. It can also be vacuum energy: the type of energy that simply sizzles in the “empty” space between two players who are totally engrossed in one another.
I’ve been privileged to be a part of some invigorating longform, from musical to musical Shakespeare to great duos and Harolds and everything in between. It wasn’t art for art’s sake. It was quality improv for everyone’s sake. And audiences, both newbies and veterans, eat it up and want more. The laughs-per-minute skyrocket. And the brain is tantalized along with the funny bone.
You don’t have to do it louder. You don’t have to do it shorter. Just do it better.